Slasher Movies

The Wikipedia definition of a Slasher movie begins as follows:

Slasher film is a sub-genre of the horror film genre typically involving a psychopathic killer stalking, and killing a sequence of victims in a graphically violent manner, often with a cutting tool such as a chainsaw or scythe.

The entry continues with Vera Dika’s excellent overview of the sub-genre.  While one could just provide a link and be excused of washing one’s hands of the subject, a slightly more personalized accounting of Slasher films waits below.

Overview of Slasher Film Sub-Genre

Traces of what would be come what we consider a Slasher Movie have been a part of the Horror Genre for a long, long time.  A small group of people, trapped or otherwise, facing a killer intent on slaying them one by one for reasons or reasons unknown.  Most, if not all, deal with the thrill of the killer hunting prey, as it were, and not on the mad man himself (or herself).  A film like M (1931), say, would not be considered a Slasher Movie, as it focuses much more on the chase of the killer than the killer’s own pursuits.

Examples of these proto-Slasher movies might include the following:

  • The Bat (1926) – A masked killer hunt down a group of men and women
  • Dr. X (1932)A disfigured mad man sates his desires upon an unsuspecting populace.
  • Thirteen Women (1932) – a group of sorority sisters meet death arraigned by a killer they have wronged.

While one can see various elements and situations that have carried on to the modern Slasher movie, it isn’t until the splatter films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and the Italian Giallo movies of such film makers as Mario Bava (who’s Sei donne per l’assassino/Blood and Black Lace (1964) is very much a Slasher movie) and Dario Argento, that the sub-genre congealed as a whole.

From the perspective of this writer, while other films have had a notable influence upon the sub-genre, what defined it as we see it today are the following films:

The Slasher Film Plot

A bog standard Slasher movie takes place in a remote location. A small town ( Halloween, The Prowler), a camp ground (Friday the 13th), and the like. This limits or removes the police from the equation.

All the killings in the film link back to a Horrible Event in the past, one that’s tied either to the setting or the victims themselves. With very few exceptions, this event is a death, whether by murder or (more commonly) by accident. The killer is almost always linked to the event in some way, though is seldom the instigator.  The killer is also almost always male (and thus refered to as such throughout this essay.).

As stated above, the killer is a psychopath, though as a rule he hides it very well. Depending on the film, he will sometimes be a supernatural agency, though the specifics of what type of supernatural agency (beyond daemonic killer) will be left vague. More often than not his face will be hidden, thus allowing another actor to play the part in a sequel.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. student_20 says:

    Alright… This is an excellent overview of the sub-genre. That said, you missed a couple things here.

    First of all, you specify that the killer is almost always male – which is true – but you provide no example where the contrary is true. I would point to (***SPOILER ALERT***) Urban Legend, since it’s an excellent relatively modern example (the sequels are purely for the masochistic horror movie fan, but the original is almost as much fun for genre fans as Scream).

    Second, I find it abominable whenever people discuss the Slasher genre without mentioning Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). How can you talk about proto-slashers like The Bat without mentioning the consummate Slasher movie of all time? Psycho fills the social contract implicit in the Slasher Movie, does it with more style than any other movie ever made, and yet it gets left out of literally every Slasher discussion ever.

    Why? Because, unlike other slasher movies, Psycho is ART. It’s one of the pinnacles of film making. Like Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), it’s so good that it can’t be in the slasher genre. While Black Christmas and Halloween are brilliant, they’re in the genre, but Psycho and Frenzy are left out. This isn’t because of the lack of the supernatural (The House on Sorority Row and Scream are both definitely slasher films, but neither exhibits any supernatural vibe) – it’s because both films are too good.

    This makes me crazy, because it implies that Slasher films cannot exceed a certain level of quality. That’s crap. Slasher films can be awesome.

    Oh, and kudos on mentioning Hershell. Blood Feast and Blood Feast 2 are a couple of my all time favorite bad movies. Blood Feast 2 is especially grand – pornography without sex. It’s brilliant in how proud it is of how bad it is. Unapologetically horrible. I love it.

    1. I’ve posted a blog post in answer to this. Check it out.

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